What does it take to get mentally healthy in 21st century America?

There is no health, without mental health. 

May is Mental Health Month—bringing hope and awareness for more than 54 million adults in America who have a diagnosable mental health condition. One and four American adults live with a mental illness that is diagnosable, debilitating and better yet: treatable.

It’s estimated that up to half of the more than 54 million people with a mental illness do not seek help. Cost, stigma, lack of information, or insufficient health insurance coverage account for the disparity—with frightening repercussions for individuals, families, society.

Poor mental healthcare is a public health crisis. Regrettably, it effects are widespread. Here are some of the frightful side effects

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds.
  • Older adults with untreated depression and diabetes—die at twice the rate of those who receive effective treatment and care for their depression.
  • Research suggests that students ages 14-21 with emotional disturbances or mental health conditions drop out of school at twice the rate of students with other disabilities.

Reforming America’s mental healthcare system begins as a grassroots level; by embracing the foundational principles inherent in humanistic psychology.

In A Challenge to Humanistic Psychology in the 21st Century author Eleanor Criswell tackles the ways in which humanistic psychology can enlarge its mission, expand its reach and gather its resources to bring about a revolution in the United States; especially for those suffering from mental health issues. “The challenge to humanistic psychology is to fulfill its own potential, to have a positive effect on global well-being” states, Criswell.

Criswell proposes some of the following ways that humanistic psychology can contribute to change:

1)    Actualization of Personal Potential: Given the experientially focused and over-arching fulfillment themes inherent in the theory of humanistic psychology, greater focus in mental health treatment needs to be given to the mind, body and spirit cohesiveness. Given the relationship of mental and physical illness, mental healthcare needs to reintegrate the somatic dimension to its practices with a focus on the psychophysiological components of the human person through biofeedback, and other such practices.

2)    Education in the tradition of humanism: from parenting, to healthcare, to education, humanistic principles need to begin to infiltrate communities, businesses and healthcare organizations. A new human potential movement needs to begin to take root with a focus on meeting the needs of individual people from mental healthcare to inclusive education. Through research and collaborative educational campaigns, humanistic values need again to be imbued into society placing the needs of the human person central to all else.

3)    Diversity: Given the ever-growing diverse nature of society, mental healthcare, education and other human services must expand to meet the needs of the members being served. Greater research needs to be done in order to clarify and substantiate the effectiveness of humanistic principles and interventions in serving diverse populations inclusive of members of different sexual orientations, origins, cultures, creeds and genders.  

4)    Global Well Being: Given the turbulent times, humanism calls for an activation of community collaboration and advocacy on a national, international, and grassroots level. Organizations such as Mental Health America serve the purpose of educating, serving and advocating. The principles of humanistic psychology call for promoting personal responsibility especially as it pertains to activities that maximize psychological health and strengthen development in mind, body and spirit.

5)    Environmental Aspects: Mental health is affected by way of one’s environmental contexts including: emotional surroundings, ecosystem contributions and nutritional consumption. Our values, individually and systemically, need to begin to shift away from massive consumption and towards more holistic measures. Given the finite resources on the planet, a large scale shift in perspective and function needs to occur toward a healthy co-dependence that recognizes our relation to others; which in turn strengthens individual discovery.

6)    Media: Because of the centrality of media in current mainstream culture, mental health reform and the imbuing of humanistic principles will occur largely through the social realm. To date, given the mental health parity reform, substantial progress has been made. To further these efforts, public relations campaigns will be necessary; rising out of humanistic educational institutions and other such entities.

Criswell’s propositions for implanting humanistic principles into society and mental healthcare is a start.

— Liz Schreiber

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